Watershed Reporting - Ontario's Watersheds Are Stressed

Ontario's 36 Conservation Authorities monitor the health of natural resources in their watersheds because it helps to provide a better understanding of local environmental issues, focus actions where they are needed the most and track progress over time. 

In 2012, Conservation Authorities completed development of the Conservation Authority Watershed Report Card Guidelines to assist Conservation Authorities in developing a set of standardized watershed report cards which starting in 2013, are released every five years.

What do Conservation Authorities monitor?

Conservation Authorities monitor three key environmental conditions that are important indicators of a watershed’s health: forest conditions, surface water quality and groundwater quality.

What are we finding in Ontario’s watersheds?

The first round of Conservation Authority Watershed Report Cards released in 2013 showed that Ontario’s watersheds are stressed. In terms of water quality, forest conditions and groundwater, Conservation Authority watershed report cards have found that conditions are showing signs of stress. The average letter grades across Ontario are:

Surface Water Quality: C+
Forest Condition: C+
Groundwater Quality: B+

Learn more from Conservation Ontario's Story Map


Indicators of Watershed Health

Forest Conditions

Forests provide habitat and shade and help to clean our air and water. They protect soil which promotes water infiltration and reduces both erosion and flooding. Forests also help to cool the land and air. Conservation Authorities assess the area of their watersheds covered by forest and the amount of forest interior (areas that are more than 100 meters from the forest edge which provides critical habitat for many species including songbirds).

Surface Water Quality

Surface water is the water that makes up our rivers, lakes and streams. Conservation Authorities assess the quality of these water bodies by measuring water chemistry (phosphorous, oxygen) and organisms that live in the sediment at the bottom of streams and rivers. Some Conservation Authorities also measure bacteria.

Groundwater Quality

Groundwater is the water found beneath the earth’s surface, in water bearing layers known as aquifers. Groundwater is difficult, if not impossible to clean once contaminated, so it is critical to protect areas of groundwater recharge. Conservation Authorities monitor water chemistry (nutrients, metals, chloride and nitrates).

Conservation Authorities participate in Provincial Monitoring Networks

Conservation Authorities collect and provide information to a variety of provincial water monitoring networks.

Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network

Conservation Authorities have 465 groundwater monitoring wells. Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network Conservation Authorities regularly sample benthic invertebrates to determine surface water quality. A total of 25 Conservation Authorities participate in this network using 1,067 monitoring stations.

Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Network

Conservation Authorities have 400+ sites monitoring surface water conditions for this network.